In Burmese culture, one calls their elders “Auntie” and “Uncle” regardless of DNA. When we first arrived to Marni’s home in Yangon, I was so confused by this. Auntie who? Uncle who? Who was related to who? Eventually, I realized it was a term of respect and affection. I did not meet Marni’s mother’s sister, Auntie Peggy, though we are now Facebook friends, but I did meet her husband Uncle Jimmy, who taught me much about the importance of the customs of respect, including proper sitting postures. We spent time with him before heading to the monastery, which seems like a lifetime ago.
The two people who became part of our extended family are Auntie Emerald, who was basically in charge of our stay at the monastery, and her husband Uncle Victor, who among other things was one of our translators. And sometimes he became more than the translator when he added his own spin on things modeling the postures as well as causing some giggles. You will hear him in action in some of the future videos.
No one has ever come to the monastery from the outside the way we did. Auntie Emerald made that possible. She and Uncle Victor were also behind the scenes preparing our room. They brought the bedding, mosquito netting, as well as made sure there was a new air conditioner installed in our room so we would be comfortable sleeping in the triple digit heat.
Treats were supplied, sometimes too many, along with the comforts of home, incuding a coffee pot! A necessity with a 4:30 am wake up. I became a huge fan of Sunkist Orange, reminiscent of my days in Tanzania, drinking Fanta Orange with 13 year-old Nico Calabria on stage during International Disabilities Day when he gave away the Wheelchairs in 2007. Oops, sidetrack. That’s a different story.
Emerald and Victor were not going to let us drive 8 to 10 hours to Bagan after the retreat, so they helped us arrange flights, drivers and a hotel, owned by another Auntie.
Auntie Emerald joined the girls in yoga, so that she could experience first hand the impact of this powerful practice, and listen to Uncle Victor translate. She’d often tell us some of the things he said afterward!
But those are just the physical things that Auntie and Uncle did for us. They loved and cared for us like their own children, translating during meditation, during personal spiritual growth sessions with Saya, the head nun, and any other time Burmese was spoken in rapid fashion. We also all discussed our thoughts and feelings about the monastery and each of our future roles there. She brought in a palmist to read our palms and translate for us. So much is about the Karma we bring with us, and the merits and deeds in this lifetime. Sharing life stories, struggles and triumphs brought us all very close.
I am forever filled with love, gratitude and appreciation for the gifts Auntie Emerald and Uncle Victor brought into my life, and I would be so very sad if it was the last time I saw them, but I know it isn’t. It is only the beginning of a long friendship with many trips back to Yangon and the monastery.